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Unique, savory and sweet breads

 

This multi-layered tomato spinach bread is as  decorative to look at as it is good to eat.

This multi-layered tomato spinach bread is as decorative to look at as it is good to eat.
Photo by: Courtesy Photo/Country Women

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

The aroma of just-baked bread is a delight for the senses at any time of year. But there's something extra special about opening the oven door on a batch of fresh, hot rolls or a homemade loaf during the winter months. The comfort food is ideal for serving alongside hot soups or hearty stews, and the kitchen's cozy warmth can dispel any gloom outside. Not to mention, that sense of accomplishment can make you feel like a blooming genius. 

 

When we stop to think about it, the process of bread-making is about as old as time. Bread, in one form or another, has been one of the most celebrated foods of every culture. Ancient Greeks offered ritual bread to their gods and 12th century BC Egyptians purchased flat bread called "ta" from stalls in the village streets.  

 

The bread baker transforms relatively tasteless flour starch into a satisfying product, bringing out all the richness of the grains. With a world of ingredients -- from spinach to poppy seeds, bananas to chocolate -- the creative cook can elevate her game. Today's recipes offer a few options. 

 

A savory, swirled tomato spinach loaf is as decorative to look at as it is tasty to eat. This multi-layered loaf will take a little time, but will definitely brand you as a artist in the kitchen. A recipe for sweet potato rolls offers a twist on the same-old roll. Serve these with honey and butter. A sweeter route are white chocolate cranberry muffins. 

 

Experienced bread bakers share plenty of pointers online. A few from Thursday Bram of wisebread.com include:

     

     

  • If your dough isn't rising properly, try filtered water. If you live somewhere with fairly chlorinated water, your yeast just won't be able to do the job. 

     

  • A little egg wash (1 egg, 1 tablespoon of milk, mixed together and painted on unbaked dough) makes everything look better. Sesame seeds or poppy seeds on top can jazz up a plain loaf, too. 

     

  • Put your dough in the oven to rise. It's dark, out of the way, and you can make it warm and humid without turning it on. Place a deep dish below your rising dough and pour hot water into the dish. 

     

  • Never throw out stale bread. Just a little bit of staleness can actually make a slice better for French toast or bread pudding. If your bread's gone too stale for even that, feed it to the birds.
 

 

 

 

Keep it fresh 

 

Homemade bread doesn't have preservatives, so to help it stay fresh, tasteofhome.com recommends storing at room temperature in a cool, dry place. Storage in the refrigerator can turn it stale quickly, and heat and humidity cause homemade bread to mold. To keep it soft, store in an airtight plastic bag.  

 

You might want to try storing homemade bread in the freezer, where it will keep fresh for up to three months. Slice it before freezing, then just take out the number of slices you want as you need them. 

 

Tasteofhome.com suggests learning the true meaning of "warm" when we see "warm water" in a bread recipe. More than lukewarm, water should be 110 to 115 degrees. (Water that's too cool or too hot can kill the yeast.)  

 

"You can use a candy thermometer to check the water temperature. ... Once I learned what 'warm' really meant, it helped a lot, and my yeast has 'lived' ever since," says a blogger at the site. 

 

 

 

TOMATO SPINACH BREAD 

 

Makes two loaves 

 

 

 

1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast 

 

1 cup warm water (110-115 degrees) 

 

4 teaspoons butter, melted 

 

1 teaspoon salt 

 

2 3/4 to 3 cups bread flour 

 

 

 

For the spinach dough: 

 

1/4 cup cold water 

 

1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry 

 

1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast 

 

3/4 cup warm water 

 

4 teaspoons butter, melted 

 

1 teaspoon salt 

 

 

 

For the tomato dough: 

 

1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast 

 

1 cup warm water 

 

4 teaspoons butter, melted 

 

1 teaspoon salt 

 

1 can (6 ounce) tomato paste 

 

3 1/4 to 3 3/4 cups bread flour 

 

1 egg white 

 

1 teaspoon cold water 

 

     

     

  • For plain dough, in a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add butter, salt and 2 cups flour; beat until smooth. Add enough remaining flour to form a firm dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turn once to grease top. Cover and refrigerate overnight. 

     

  • For spinach dough, purée cold water and spinach in food processor. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add butter, salt, 2 cups flour and spinach mixture; beat until smooth. Add enough remaining flour to form a firm dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. With lightly floured hands, knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and refrigerate overnight. 

     

  • For tomato dough, in a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add butter, salt, tomato paste and 2 cups flour; beat until smooth. Add enough remaining flour to form a firm dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. With lightly floured hands, knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and refrigerate overnight. 

     

  • Punch down each dough and divide in half; cover. On lightly floured surface, roll out one portion of each dough into a 10-by-8-inch rectangle. Place a rectangle of spinach dough on plain dough; top with tomato dough. Roll into a 12-by-10-inch rectangle. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side; pinch seams to seal and tuck ends under. Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. 

     

  • Cover loaves and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes. With a sharp knife, make three shallow diagonal slashes across the top of each loaf. Beat egg whites and cold water; brush over loaves. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.
 

 

(Source: Avanell Hewitt, for Country Women) 

 

 

 

WHITE CHOCOLATE CRANBERRY MUFFINS 

 

Makes 15 muffins 

 

 

 

2 cups all-purpose flour 

 

1 cup sugar 

 

2 teaspoons baking powder 

 

1/2 teaspoon salt 

 

2 eggs 

 

1 1/3 cups buttermilk 

 

1/2 cup butter, melted 

 

1 cup dried cranberries 

 

2 squares (1 ounce each) white baking chocolate, grated 

 

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar 

 

4 to 5 teaspoons cranberry juice 

 

     

     

  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk and butter. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in cranberries and chocolate. 

     

  • Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for five minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely. 

     

  • In a small bowl, combine confectioners' sugar and cranberry juice until smooth. Drizzle over muffins.
 

 

(Source: Erica Keip, for Country Women) 

 

 

 

SWEET POTATO ROLLS 

 

Makes 2 1/2 dozen 

 

 

 

1/2 cup water 

 

1 egg 

 

3 tablespoons butter, softened 

 

3/4 cup mashed sweet potatoes (without added milk or butter) 

 

4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 

 

3 tablespoons sugar 

 

1 1/2 teaspoons salt 

 

2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast 

 

     

     

  • In a bread machine pan, place all ingredients in order suggested by manufacturer. Select dough setting (check dough after five minutes of mixing; add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water or flour if needed). 

     

  • When cycle is completed, turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Punch down. Divide into 30 portions; roll each into a ball. 

     

  • Place on greased baking sheets. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes. 

     

  • Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.
 

 

(Source: Peggy Burdick, for Country Women) 

 

 

 

PAULA DEEN'S BANANA-CHOCOLATE GORILLA BREAD 

 

Makes 6-8 servings 

 

 

 

3 tablespoons granulated sugar 

 

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

 

1 cup light brown sugar, packed 

 

8 tablespoons butter (1 stick) 

 

2 tubes refrigerated crescent roll dough (12 ounces) 

 

3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk 

 

2 bananas, sliced 1/4-inch to make 48 slices 

 

4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about 2/3 cup) 

 

1 1/2 cups walnuts, chopped 

 

     

     

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a Bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray. Mix the granulated sugar and cinnamon. In a small saucepan, melt brown sugar with the butter over low heat. 

     

  • Break open crescent roll packages and separate the triangles of dough. Brush each triangle with sweetened condensed milk and top with 2 banana slices and 1 teaspoon chocolate chips; fold the edges of the triangle together and seal. Sprinkle each with 1/4 teaspoon of the cinnamon sugar. 

     

  • Place half of the walnuts in the pan and top with half of the dough packets. Pour half of the brown sugar-butter mixture over the dough and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of the cinnamon sugar. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.  

     

  • Bake for one hour, until puffed, golden brown and firm to the touch. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow to cool for five minutes. Place a platter on top of the pan and invert. Serve warm.  

     

    (Source: "The Deen Family Cookbook"; Simon & Schuster 2009)

     

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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